Comets volleyball hungry for success


If you're trying to find the Catonsville volleyball team, you won't have to look very hard.

You can check the usual places, like in the sweltering gym at Catonsville High, where players spend hours after school working on their passes and serves. Or maybe on an opposing court, giving a licking to one of their Baltimore County opponents.

But if you're really hungry to find last year's state semifinalists, you might check an unlikely place.

The dinner table.

Eating together is just one of the ways this collection of athletes has become a close-knit family. And it's also one of the main reasons the third-ranked and undefeated Comets are feasting on their competition.

"I like that a lot in a team," said coach Debbie Clem. "It's like a little family we have, and I think that definitely helps on the court."

Not that they need extra help.

The Comets feature a pair of big hitters in senior Christie Anderson and junior Kristie Deickman, and one of the area's best setters in junior Trisha Uttenreither.

But this squad is also quite different from the 13-2 team of a year ago that featured All-County setter Gabrielle Clark and her favorite target, Baltimore Sun Player of the Year Karla Uttenreither, now at Virginia Tech.

Uttenreither's monster kills dominated the front line, earning her a reputation as one of the premier hitters in the state.

But those big hits also overshadowed the play of some other team members.

"I felt uncomfortable last year," said Deickman. "We weren't close as a team. We just didn't have any unity. Karla was the star.

"This year we're a team, and the atmosphere is so different."

The numbers bear that out.

The Comets, playing their first season in the Baltimore County 1A-2A League, are 6-0, and have won 18 of 19 games. What's more, they feature an exciting blend of youth and senior leadership, and boast five starters who serve at an over 90-percent accuracy rate.

They already have defeated county power Owings Mills, in four games, and seem loaded with confidence heading into Friday's key matchup with Loch Raven, where the winner will claim sole possession of first place in the league.

That's a familiar place for Clem and the Comets, who have claimed eight county, 12 regional and seven state titles since 1979. Clem last won a state championship in 1989, and seems eager for the chance at a repeat performance.

"They've been working really hard," said Clem. "They're very coachable. They want to listen and do well, and I think it's up to them how far they go."

In preseason, though, the mood was quite different.

After losing five starters to graduation, and promoting six from the junior varsity, Clem had to teach this team the basics. She started with blocking and defensive positioning, and worked extra hard on passing and communication.

Now, she feels that this year's Comets are among her smartest and most fundamentally sound.

"They don't try to kill the ball on every set," Clem said. "If there's a dink open, they'll take it."

But this bunch is more than just a collection of players. It's a family affair.

Anderson, says Clem, is the "mother," keeping the others in line.

The "kids" include senior Jaime Moore, the funny one; senior Jamie Crotts, the serious one; and Uttenreither, the quiet one, whose strong play and emotional stability are the glue of the family.

But there are plenty of tough tests ahead. Loch Raven, Towson and Perry Hall, as well as Owings Mills, stand between Catonsville and another county title.

When playoff time approaches, however, the Comets, to the surprise of some, once again expect to be a major player.

"With all that we lost, I didn't expect this team to do as well as it has," said Uttenreither, Karla's younger sister. "But [the personnel losses] haven't seemed to make that big of a difference.

"Everybody likes each other, and that helps a lot."

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